Lee Gatiss preaches the final part of “A Short Declaration of True and Living Christian Faith” (Homily 4).
You have heard in the second part of this sermon, that no one should think that they have that lively faith which Scripture commands when they do not live obediently to God’s laws, for all good works spring out of that faith. And it has also been declared to you by examples that faith makes people steadfast, quiet, and patient in all affliction. Now, let us hear further on this same subject.
Do not deceive yourself
Some may soon deceive themselves and think in their own imagination that by faith they know God, love him, fear him, and belong to him, when in actual fact they do no such thing. For the proof of all these things is a very godly and Christian life. The one who feels their heart set to seek God’s honour, and studies to know the will and commandments of God, and to frame their lives accordingly, and does not lead their life in pursuit of the desire of their own flesh, to serve the devil by sin, but sets their mind to serve God for his own sake, and for his sake also to love all their neighbours, whether they are friends or adversaries, doing good to everyone (as opportunity serves) and willingly hurting no one: such a person may well rejoice in God, perceiving by the course of their life that they sincerely have the right knowledge of God, a lively faith, a steadfast hope, a true and unfeigned love, and fear of God. But those who cast away the yoke of God’s commandments from their neck, and give themselves to live without true repentance, pursuing their own sensual mind and pleasure, not caring to know God’s word, and much less to live according to it: such a person clearly deceives themselves, and does not see their own heart if they think that they either know God, love him, fear him, or trust in him.
Some perhaps imagine in themselves that they belong to God, even though they live in sin, and so they come to church, and show themselves as God’s dear children. But St. John says plainly, “If we say that we have any company with God, and yet walk in darkness, we lie” (1 John 1:6). Others vainly think that they know and love God, although they do not keep the commandments. But St. John says clearly, “Whoever says, ‘I know God,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar” (1 John 2:4). Some falsely persuade themselves that they love God, when they hate their neighbours. But St. John manifestly says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar,” and, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them” (1 John 4:20, 2:9-11 NIV). And, moreover, he says “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 John 3:10 NIV).
Do not deceive yourselves, therefore, thinking that you have faith in God, or that you love God, or trust in him, or fear him, when you live in sin. For then your ungodly and sinful life declares the contrary, whatever you may say or think. Christians should have this true Christian faith, and examine themselves whether they have it or not, and know what it is and how it works in them. We cannot trust the world. The world and all that is in it is but vanity. It is God who must be our defence and protection against all temptation of wickedness and sin, errors, superstition, idolatry, and all evil. If the whole world was on our side, and God against us, what could the world benefit us? Therefore, let us set our whole faith and trust in God, and neither the world, the devil, nor all the power of them shall prevail against us.
Let us therefore (good Christian people), test and examine our faith, and what it is. Let us not flatter ourselves, but look at our works, and so judge of our faith. Christ himself speaks of this matter, and says, “The tree is known by the fruit” (Matthew 12:33). Therefore let us do good works, and by this declare our faith to be a living Christian faith. Let us by such virtues as ought to spring out of faith, show our election to be sure and stable, as St. Peter teaches: “make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10). And he also says, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:5-7 NIV). So we shall show in deed that we have a living Christian faith, and may both better assure our conscience that we are in the right faith, and also by these means confirm this to others. If these fruits do not follow, we only mock with God, deceiving ourselves and others. We may well bear the name of Christian, but we lack the true faith that belongs to it. For true faith always brings forth good works, as St. James says: Show me your faith by your deeds (James 2:18).
Your deeds and works must be an open testimonial of your faith; otherwise, your faith (being without good works) is only the faith of devils’, the faith of the wicked, a fantasy of faith, and not a true Christian faith. And as devils and evil people are no better off for their counterfeit faith, but it is to them even more a cause of damnation, so those who are Christians and have received knowledge of God and of Christ’s merits, and yet have a set purpose to live idly without good works, thinking the name of a naked faith to be sufficient for them, or else setting their minds upon the vain pleasures of this world, they live in sin without repentance, not bearing the fruits that belong to such a high profession — upon such presumptuous persons, and wilful sinners, the great vengeance of God must remain, and eternal punishment in hell, prepared for the unjust and the wicked.
Therefore as you profess the name of Christ (good Christian people), let no such fantasy and imagination of faith at any time beguile you. But be sure of your faith; prove it by your living; look at the fruits that come from it; mark the increase of love and charity by it towards God and your neighbour; and so shall you perceive it to be a true and living faith. If you feel and perceive such a faith in you, rejoice in it; and be diligent to maintain it, and keep it still in you,. Let it be daily increasing, more and more, by doing good, and so shall you be sure that you shall please God by this faith, and at the length (as other faithful people have done before) you shall (when God wills it) come to him, and receive the end and final reward of your faith (as St. Peter calls it) “the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9). May God grant us this, which he has promised to his faithful, and to him be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.